NATIONAL PRESS CLUB LUNCHEON WITH KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR SUBJECT: GETTING THE CONVERSATION GOING ON RACE AND EQUALITY MODERATOR: THOMAS BURR, PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB LOCATION: THE BALLROOM, WASHINGTON, D.C. TIME: 12:30 P.M. DATE: MONDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2016 (C) COPYRIGHT 2008, NATIONAL PRESS CLUB, 529 14TH STREET, WASHINGTON, DC - 20045, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED. UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION. FOR INFORMATION ON BECOMING A MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB, PLEASE CALL 202-662-7505.
THOMAS BURR: (Sounds gavel.) Good afternoon, and welcome to the National Press Club. My name is Thomas Burr; I'm the Washington correspondent for the Salt Lake Tribune and the 109th President of the National Press Club. Our guest today is the legendary NBA player, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I would like to welcome our Public Radio and C-SPAN audiences, and I want to remind you that you can follow the action live on Twitter using the hashtag NPClive. That's NPClive. Now its time to introduce our head table guests. I'd ask that each of you stand briefly as your name is announced. Please hold your applause until I have finished introducing the entire head table. From your right, Del Quentin Wilber, Washington correspondent for the Los Angeles Times who covers the Justice Department; Wes Lowry, national reporter at the Washington Post; Margaret Richardson of Global Policy Develop for airbnb; Bruce Johnson, reporter and anchor at WUSA-TV; John Hughes, editor for Bloomberg News First Word D.C., and the 108th President of the National Press Club; Eric Holder, the former Attorney General of the United States. Skipping over our speaker for just a moment, Alison Kodjak, health policy correspondent for NPR, Chairman of the Press Clubs Board of Governors, and the NPC Speakers Committee member who organized todays luncheon. Thank you, Alison. Deborah Morales, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Iconomy, LLC, the international consulting firm representing our speaker and his long-time manager; Claire McNear, staff writer at The Ringer; Michael Fletcher, senior writer at ESPNs The
Undefeated; and Jamaal Abdul-Alim, senior staff writer for Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Thank you all. (Applause) It's not often at our podium we have someone who is a major celebrity, a star athlete and an accomplished journalist. Today, we do. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is known to most of the world as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He led UCLA to three consecutive championships and then burst into the NBA in 1969. With his trademark skyhook, he dominated the league, winning six championships and being named an all star 19 of his 20 years as a player. And even though he hasn't played in nearly 30 years, at least professionally, he remains the NBA's all time leading scorer. And that would have been enough for us to invite him to speak here today, but it wasn't enough for him. Since he left basketball, Abdul-Jabbar has become a best-selling author of more than a dozen books that ranged from a World War II history to a graphic novel about Sherlock Holmes brother, Mycroft. His latest work is Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White. He writes regularly for the Washington Post and Time Magazine and recently wrote an article praising San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who publicly protests violence against black men by taking a knee at games during the national anthem.
Through his writing, Abdul-Jabbar, who converted to Islam when he was 24 years old, has become a leading thinker and activist for the rights of African Americans and Muslims in the United States. And through his Skyhook Foundation, hes working to improve the lives of low income kids by bringing educational opportunities into their communities. And if all this weren't enough, lets not forget the he also appeared in several films including the 1980 comedy Airplane. Abdul-Jabbar says he wants his new book to start a dialogue about social injustices in America. We hope this luncheon here today will be part of that conversation. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm National Press Club welcome to the tallest man ever to stand behind this podium, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (Applause)
MR. ABDUL-JABBAR: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you very much.
And thank you for that great introduction. I guess a lot of people are curious to know why I wrote this book. Usually, they expect me to write about hoops or one of my other favorite subjects that go through my fevered brain. But I had to do this book because it was very important to me because of what I've seen going on in our country. And its interesting that I got a chance to talk with my good friend, Eric Holder, here about some of these issues because its something that has affected our nation for such a long time and we're just now at the point where we can talk about these things and try to find a solution.
And that's really my motivation, a solution. I have several suggestions in the book
about how we can deal with some of the issues that I talk about. I talk about all types of things; race, aging, a little bit about hoops, and just how we've gotten to a point where we can't speak to each other. And I've been inspired by the founding fathers and the way that
they were able to come to a consensus and figure out how to leave us with a document that enabled us to have this great nation that we have.
And we have to keep this in mind because unless you can listen with an open
mind, or express yourself without bitterness, you can't have a communication. You can't have that dialogue. And that's the one thing that we need. We have too many people talking past each other and giving in to all of their emotional issues and the things that drive them crazy. But they don't have the ability to listen to the other side as to what their issues are and the things that drive them crazy.
So that's what my book is about. I've been getting a great response to it, and I'm
very thankful for that because we need to continue to do the work that that's been left to us. Dr. King, Dr. Martin Luther King, said that we had work to do and he really defined it before he left us. All of the issues having to do with economic inequalities and the denial of a political and civil rights to different segments of our society. This has been a problem for us since the origin of our republic, but we're just now getting to the point where we can talk about it.
So my book is here to encourage us to start this conversation. You mentioned
Colin Kaepernick. I had a chance to talk to him before he did something really crazy, and I think he handled it the right way and he is now as much of an inspiration as he was annoying people with what they thought was his disrespect for our country. But that's not how he feels. He wants to make our country a better place for the same reasons that I do. And hes going to get there. He's going to do what he feels is necessary to get people to start thinking about these things.
And I'm really happy to see that the movement is spreading throughout some of
the other professional sports leagues, the NFL, definitely, and the NBA is getting in there. If you saw the ESPN awards, LeBron and Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul all had something to say about the same issues that Colin Kaepernick is talking about. And they're doing it in a way that invites discussion and a reasonable conversation as opposed to making people angry. And that's what I wanted. I'm very happy to see that's how its worked out.
So, that's what you have in your hands, if you have copies of my book, that's what
you'll be reading about. And I hope you enjoy it, I hope you get something from it, and I hope you can encourage some of the people that you know to speak their mind on these subjects and lets get to work on solving these problems. And I want to thank you all for your attention. (Applause)
MR. BURR: Thank you, sir. Let's continue that conversation. Dr. Martin Luther
King spoke in this room in 1962, obviously trying to work on the civil rights movement to get the federal government's help. Its been a long time since then, but we're still dealing with a lot of racial issues. How do we move forward in this conversation? How do we do it? Is it neighbor to neighbor, is it encouraging events like this? How do we get this conversation going?
MR. ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, I think it absolutely has to be neighbor to
neighbor. And for people in minority communities, sometimes they don't understand who their neighbors are. One of the things I'm hoping for is that people in minority communities, instead of talking about the police, that they get to start talking about our police. When they can do that, that means that a bridge has been built, going from one side to the other. And when the police departments and various law enforcement agencies get to the point, instead of talking about those people and they start talking about the people that we serve and protect, then that's another foothold for a bridge. And those bridges can connect.
And I think that that's what we want to get to, where we get the people who need
to be talking to each other to start that conversation. MR. BURR: So, I think what you're telling us, if I understand it correctly, is
we've got to stop the us versus them mentality that appears out there. And following